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Kelley's Angels

With "Snoops," David Kelley veers perilously close to Aaron Spelling territory; then again, why shouldn't Gina Gershon have her own show?

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Mind your own business: Private eyes Gina Gershon (left) and Marshall in Kelley's Snoops.  

So it's beat-up-on-David Kelley time. The executive producer for all seasons and three networks, the nimble-fingered golden boy who conjures up about 40 nifty teleplays a year for Ally McBeal and The Practice, the deus ex machina who dispatched half the cast of Chicago Hope last May, the lucky husband of Michelle Pfeiffer, was bound to overreach himself. And even if he hasn't, we'd say he had -- because we're jealous, and because just the sight of anyone working so hard on the prime-time high wire is offensive to our sloth. Thus the trashing of Snoops (Sundays, starting September 26; 9 to 10 p.m.; ABC) in most of the fall television previews, on the basis of a single flimsy hour.

Flimsy Snoops so far is, I'll concede, with its trio of female private eyes in Los Angeles -- surveillance babes running lithesomely roughshod and gadget-happy over any such amendments to the Constitution as may still inhibit the uniformed cops, tapping whatever phones they choose to, hacking into any old computer, videotaping stray intimacies, tranquilizing anybody who gets in their sneaky way, mini-cammed and leather-trousered on trystlike stakeouts. Although the L.A. nightscape has a nice surreal music-video smear about it to which the soundtrack contributes with some inspired sampling, the jokes in the pilot are decidedly lame.

On the other hand, sultry Gina Gershon (Showgirls) certainly deserves a show of her own, and Kelley has given her one. If Paula Marshall's motivation for quitting the Santa Monica police force is a little hokey -- a love affair gone wrong with detective Edward Kerr -- the network owes her a job after cancelling Cupid. And while Paula Jai Parker (Why Do Fools Fall in Love?) hasn't much to do so far, at least she's already African-American, which is more than can be said for the rest of the characters on most of the new shows in a fall season so Wonder Bread-white it looks like NBC on Thursday nights. Besides, Snoops hasn't yet settled on who's in charge. Kelley seems never to have intended to write all these scripts, and his original producer, Cupid's Rob Thomas, departed early after the usual "creative differences." Never mind, this Sunday night, whether John Glover really poisoned that unpleasant woman with blowfish sushi. I can't help thinking that a combination of Gershon and Kelley could eventually prove combustible.

I can't help thinking this because Kelley shows often start slow, on his part or ours. We resisted Picket Fences at first, and even a couple of years into it, critics continued to complain about a series so obsessed with "issues" -- abortion, euthanasia, gay-bashing, elephant abuse. We overwhelmingly preferred ER to Chicago Hope, even though Hope was much better written -- almost a cantata. While Ally McBeal was loved by a large audience from the get-go, it was also reviled, and so much persiflage has been devoted to wondering if it's good for feminism that we failed to notice when it turned into a musical -- much closer to Dennis Potter than Bochco's Cop Rock ever was. The Practice, a mid-season entry, went almost unwatched till it got some Emmys, a new night, and a new time slot. I also realize this thinking may be wishful. Until The Practice, defense attorneys had all but vanished from network television, along with the presumption of innocence. Except for Snoops, the schedule is likewise bereft of private eyes, whom we used to count on to champion the powerless in a society of privilege.


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